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Supervisors Vote 3-2 to Request More Oil Exploration, Drilling

The Board of Supervisors will send a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asking for his support to lift moratorium.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 3-2 to send a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger requesting a policy change that would allow for more oil and gas exploration and extraction in the region.

Supervisors Joe Centeno, Brooks Firestone and Joni Gray voted for the measure while Supervisors Salud Carbajal and Janet Wolf voted against it.

The vote came after a full day of presentations from drilling advocates, opponents and environmental organizations, as well as comments from local residents who aired their concerns about prices at the pump and those who remembered the landmark 1969 Santa Barbara Channel oil spill that devastated local shores.

Citing economic concerns, an increase in unemployment, and fears that the nation’s petroleum shortage may at some point cause the federal government to preempt local policies, the newly revised letter pushes for a “gradual and intelligent expansion of oil exploration,” and urges “a broader energy policy that incorporates review of other viable energy resources, systems and technologies.”

While consensus in the board’s Santa Maria hearing room was that Santa Barbara County needed to expand its energy portfolio and encourage the use of alternative and renewable forms of energy, pro- and anti-drilling advocates were divided about the role oil and gas exploration should play in the meantime.

“Where do we want to be in 2030?” asked Linda Krop of the Environmental Defense Center, citing a 2007 Energy Department report that concluded projected benefits from drilling from new offshore wells wouldn’t be realized until 2030, given permitting, construction and development.

“Do we want to be starting new drilling in 2030? And perpetuating all the issues that we’re dealing with now?”

Meanwhile, drilling proponents argued, among other things, that allowing for drilling could keep gas prices from rising further should Congress lift the current moratorium.

“There seems to be a clear correlation between a decrease in excess supply and an increase in crude oil prices,” said David Hackett of Stillwater Associates energy consultants.

In the end, the money that was represented by increased offshore drilling — in terms of jobs, revenues and stable prices at the pump — was what did it for the majority.

“I represent the 5th Supervisorial District,” said Centeno, whose district includes Santa Maria, New Cuyama, Cuyama and Ventucopa. “And I would venture to say that I have the poorest constituency in Santa Barbara County ... These are the individuals who have to drive from their homes to the fields on a daily basis, these are the people who have to pay the big dollars to fuel their automobiles. And I have a responsibility to make sure they’re thought of.”

In dissent, Carbajal and Wolf sent their own letter to Schwarzenegger expressing their support for his support of the drilling ban.

“We believe the real challenge before us is the need to work at the local, state and federal level to address global climate change and invest in renewable fuels and energy,” they wrote.

It is unclear what effect, if any, the board’s request to Schwarzenegger will have; last month, he reiterated his opposition to drilling. Meanwhile, unless Congress acts to lift it, the federal moratorium on offshore exploration and extraction remains in effect.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at [email protected]

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